When Moshe Lefkowitz first chanced upon the swastikas on our social hall windows and then found the huge amount of anti-Semitic and bigoted graffiti on our Succah and Religious School building walls, it was a shocking and depressing experience. The police, our neighbors, everyone who saw it was disgusted and sickened by this panorama of hate. How could this tragic event result in anything positive? Yet it did.
At 2 p.m. on Sunday, February 19th, a gathering was held in our main sanctuary to protest hatred and bigotry in our society. Hundreds from all over the City, but particularly our own neighbors in Uptown, turned out for this special event. In spite of the fact that it was an extremely cold day, the cold felt in our unheated Sanctuary, the audience remained in their seats for the hour long program.
Speakers included Rabbi Lefkowitz, Steve Turk, president of Agudas Achim, Clarence Wood, Commissioner of the Chicago Human Relations Commission, Larry McKeon, our State Representative, Rabbis Mirelman and Shandalov, presidents of the Chicago Board of Rabbis and the Chicago Rabbinical Council respectively, and Father Richard Simon, Pastor of St. Thomas of Canterbury Roman Catholic Church, our neighbor and personal friend of Rabbi Lefkowitz. Ministers of other Faiths also shared their thoughts with us. The audience included pastors of many local Churches. The event was chaired by Rabbi Ira Yudovan, Executive Vice President of the Chicago Board of Rabbis and the driving force behind the gathering.
Rabbi Lefkowitz spoke of the rich history of Uptown as the birthplace of Hollywood and its role as a major entertainment center in Chicago. Through the good times and bad when “Uptown became downtown the Synagogue was there,” stated the Rabbi. Rabbi Lefkowitz reminded the hundreds present that “in its 85 year history on Kenmore Avenue, this is the first time Agudas Achim has been desecrated by an anti-Semitic act.”
Everyone was moved by the words of the last speaker on the program, Fr. Richard Simon. Obviously a dear friend of Rabbi Lefkowitz, he expressed his love for our building and Congregation. In poignant terms, Fr. Simon demonstrated the horror of the Nazis by showing us a remembrance book developed by the community of Neustadt, Essen Germany, to commemorate four hundred years of Jewish life in this small town, the town of his family’s origin. “All that remains of the Jews of Neustadt is this book and a cemetery,” stated the good Father. He spoke eloquently about our magnificent Synagogue calling it a “beacon” and a “nachas” for the entire community.
The program concluded with the singing of “America the Beautiful” lead by Cantor Mizrachi of Congregation Anshe Emet.
And when it came time to paint out the hateful graffiti, Christian, Jew and Muslim, Priest, Minister and Rabbi, African-American and Asian as well as many neighbors and friends joined together in the effort.
Can hatred be turned into brotherhood? It can and it happened on that special day at Agudas Achim.
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The following photography is by Frederic P. Eckhouse: